The Great Stories Club, organized by the American Library Association, gives underserved youth facing significant challenges the opportunity to read, reflect, and share ideas on topics that resonate with them. Natrona County Library was one of two Wyoming libraries selected for Great Stories Club in 2017, and offered their programs in partnership with GEAR Up.
by Jennifer Beckstead, Teen Librarian
Natrona County Library
The Library has had a fabulous partnership with GEAR Up, since their inception in 2006, and we have partnered on lots of different projects and events. The Great Stories Club was a perfect way to try something new and share literacy and the love of reading with at-risk teens in GEAR Up’s afterschool program.
Those of us who work with teens know that you have to be flexible. We worked closely with GEAR UP staff to find ways to make the book club work best for their students and make it meaningful. As a team, we tried several different strategies to engage the teens. With Thirteen Reasons Why and Romeo & Juliet, we read the book out loud as a group at GEAR Up and the teens were asked to keep the books at the office until we were finished, so they wouldn’t be lost. The incentive of coming at the end was being able to take the books home with them. Reading these aloud helped those reluctant/struggling/underachieving readers practice their skills. Our discussions of these books were more organic and occurred as teens processed what they were reading and feeling at that moment in time. Reading Romeo & Juliet also provided students with the opportunity to showcase their dramatic reading skills and have fun tackling an often difficult text.
The timeliness of the Netflix’s series releasing as we were reading Thirteen Reasons Why drew in a bigger audience and was very relevant to our teens, as there were several suicides/unexpected deaths in our community during the 2016-17 school year. Both the Library and GEAR UP have partnerships with the Youth Empowerment Council, which has a group of teenagers involved in the Suicide Prevention Awareness Team (SPAT). The SPAT members provided a prevention presentation to GEAR UP students in May.
In terms of GEAR Up students seeing themselves as readers, we definitely succeeded. Even those students who didn’t participate in every discussion or read every book still wanted to know what the group was going to be reading next. Many of the students who self-identified as non-readers participated in at least one of our discussions or visited the library at a later date.
Even if GEAR Up students weren’t participating in GSC, we were able to talk about what books they were reading in school or for fun and provide recommendations. My personal goal for any book club is to put a book in a reader’s hand and encourage them to find books they enjoy. GEAR Up students now have access to copies of the books and even if they didn’t read and discuss them at the time GSC was meeting, many of the teens were and are reading something now and may go back to the GSC books later, so this is a positive.
We do plan to have another book club discussion this school year with the GEAR Up students and they look forward to being able to choose a book. The GSC program created more connections between GEAR Up students and the Library. Students became aware of other programs the Library offered and many stopped in and used the Library since the GSC program started.
Natrona County Library previously participated in the Great Stories Club grant from 2008-2011, at that time partnering with Roosevelt High School.